When You Start a New Job, Pay Attention to These 5 Aspects of Company Culture

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Allan H. Church and Jay A. Conger for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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When you join an organization, you have a short window of time to adapt to its culture. It’s the old 90-day rule. And we know too many talented individuals who have stumbled in their new company because they failed to read the cultural tea leaves. This happens because most organizations don’t explain the cultural rules to newcomers, and new hires are so focused on the job and the new boss that they overlook the rules’ profound influence. Yet understanding them plays a big role in your initial success. Being cognizant of not just what your colleagues do but how they work matters if you want to be effective and be perceived well.

In our work, we have noticed five dimensions of culture that require your attention. These have the greatest impact on your ability to navigate a new job:


Companies differ in how they cultivate relationships, in how much they value collaboration, and in how much face time is required to get work done and make important decisions. In some organizations, the only way to influence others is by spending time with them in person. In others, emailing, texting, and video conferencing are preferred over in-person meetings. When you arrive in your new organization, ask insiders how you should approach relationships. For example, do you need to spend time building a relationship with someone before asking them for help or input on a project? Or is it acceptable to gather a list of “go-to” individuals whom you can simply email for assistance when you need them?

Observe where and how your colleagues get work done and make decisions. Do they spend much of their time meeting with one another, or do they tend to be at their desks or work from home? Are people friendly and open to meeting with you? Or do they appear to be nice but repeatedly cancel “meet and greets”? You may need others to help you make the necessary connections.


When you start a new job, look at how people tend to communicate with one another. Is it through formal channels, like meetings that are always set in advance, and to which everyone comes well-prepared? Or do individuals more often communicate spontaneously with little or no documentation? (Maybe your manager frequently stops by and says, “Can you come join this meeting now?”) You should start by asking your boss what the expectations are. Personal assistants and your teammates are other good sources of information.

Hierarchy often determines when and where it is acceptable to communicate with senior colleagues. For example, in more-hierarchical environments, you might have to “pre-clear” any communications upward in the hierarchy with your boss. In less hierarchical organizations, people may be encouraged to email senior leaders to chat with them. The best way to figure out these rules is to ask around. Your peers and direct reports may be well positioned to tell you how to proceed with your manager and those above. Ask about recent successful initiatives and how colleagues influenced senior leaders in their communications.

You should also note how information tends to be presented. For instance, do meetings revolve around formal presentations, or can individuals informally share issues, debate topics, and engage in real-time brainstorming without being judged? Some organizations and departments prefer 50-page presentations with reams of details and analyses, while others prefer to work from a simple emailed agenda with a bulleted list of topics. Pay attention to how information is typically packaged for meetings, the extent to which issues are debated versus “checked off,” and how deferential people are to those in positions of power. Observe how senior leaders in the room respond to formal decks and strong recommendations, versus informal discussions. Which style consistently results in a decision coming out of the meeting?

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Allan H. Church, Ph.D., is the senior vice president of Global Talent Assessment and Development at PepsiCo, Inc. and a Fellow of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology. He is the co-author of the book, The High Potential’s Advantage: Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses, and Become a Top Leader (HBR Press, 2018).

Jay A. Conger is the Henry R. Kravis Research Professor in Leadership Studies at Claremont McKenna College. He is the co-author of the book, The High Potential’s Advantage: Get Noticed, Impress Your Bosses, and Become a Top Leader (HBR Press, 2018).

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